FIN Atlantic International Film Festival brings us another electrifying program of films!
It’s always a thrill when you leaf through the program for the festival and see worlds open up before you. Then reality sets in: what to choose? How to choose? Maybe I should quit my job and just watch movies all day long? How can I see everything?
In case you’re feeling paralyzed by choice, here are some picks to get you started and inspire you to find your own path through the festival.
First up are the programs of short films. Perhaps the greatest value of film festivals around the world is their curation of short films, which don’t get the same kind of distribution, either in cinemas or online streaming services, as feature-length fiction and documentary. Some of them may be released online by their makers in a couple of years, but this may be your only chance to see others. And even if they’re released online down the road, it’s hard to find them in the vast ocean of the Internet.
The Reel East Coast Shorts Gala is a great place to start, with a strong mix of documentary and fiction and a wonderful tapestry of voices from the Atlantic provinces. Note that the window for the Gala is limited: it’s available for only 24 hours, starting at 7PM on Wednesday, September 23. The other shorts programs are available throughout the festival; as with other non-Gala presentations, ticket holders can start watching a program between September 17 and 24, and have 24 hours to finish once they’ve started. It’s tough to choose between the programs, so see them all if you can. There’s a great selection of documentary, animation, and fiction in genres from sci-fi to historical drama – something for all tastes. If you have to make a choice between shorts programs, save the line-ups FIN has curated, and look online for them others in a couple of years. Remember that the festival is more than just the event itself; the program guide is an enduring resource.
I can’t do full justice to the feature film line-up, but here are a few films that catch my eye.
Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s taut, incisive debut feature, Le Dep (2015), launched a clear talent, so her Rustic Oracle is a very welcome addition to FIN this year. It recounts the disappearance of a teenaged girl from her Indigenous community through the eyes of her 8-year-old sister as she and her mother become closer in the face of loss.
This is not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s fiction feature debut, and it’s received accolades for both its visual beauty and its powerful reflection on the cost of industrial “progress” to the economically vulnerable. Revolving around the 80-year-old woman in Lesotho, the film has been described as mesmerizing, dazzling, and rigorous.
On a personal note, I’m really excited about The Taste of Pho. I lived in Warsaw, where the film is set, in the late 1990s, and the Vietnamese presence (and the tastiness of the local pho) was notable. The Japanese writer-director of the film, Mariko Bobrik, stayed in Poland after moving there to attend the famous National Film School in Łódź (pronounced woodge to rhyme with Scrooge, BTW – I bet you’ve been wondering); the school also produced the likes of directors Krzysztof Kieślowski and Andrzej Wajda and cinematographers Sławomir Idziak and Hoyte van Hoytema. Great pedigree.
On another personal note, I’m thrilled to have been invited to facilitate the Q&A after the gala presentation of Ruth Lawrence’s Little Orphans on September 18. The intrepid, majority female cast and crew shot this astute family drama in St. John’s in winter, and the filmmakers’ tight, longstanding relationships with one another are reflected in the depth of the relationships onscreen. This Gala presentation is also only available for 24 hours, so be sure not to miss it.
Anyone who’s been watching Taylor Olson’s prolific and admirable career as a maker of short films will be delighted to see his first feature, Bone Cage. Adapted from the Governor General’s Award-winning play by Nova Scotian Catherine Banks, this story addresses environmental destruction in rural communities and the emotional and interpersonal consequences of that destruction.
For an exploration of our environmental impact in documentary form, the Swedish doc about Greta Thunberg, I Am Greta, is sure to both inspire and inform. And Michèle Stephenson’s Stateless follows another young woman fighting a very just fight, in this case to reinstate citizenship for the 200 000 people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic who rendered stateless by an anti-black racist policy of 2013.
Finally, documentaries can open our eyes to topics we may never have considered carefully or in ways that surprise us. Darrell Varga’s previous doc, Fire, Ice & Sky (2015) imaginatively blended stunning images, philosophical inquiries, and entrancing characters; now Bread in the Bones puts the humble loaf at the centre of a web of politics, social justice, sex, death, art, and joy. Helgi Piccinin’s feel-good Champions documents the skills and training of intellectually different athletes aiming for the Special Olympics World Games through the eyes of his brother, who’s on the autism spectrum. And Our Time Machine, directed by S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun, tells the story of the celebrated, Shanghai-based concept artist, Maleonn, struggling to create a visually stunning work of puppet theatre that responds to his father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and career in the Chinese Opera.
Whatever you choose, wherever the program takes you, enjoy!